Telephone scams are fraudulent attempts to steal people’s money or their personal information through the telephone. These may come through calls from robocalls, real people, or text messages. The South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDA) handles all matters relating to telephone scams in the state. It enforces the Consumer Code of Laws and educates residents about current scams and how to protect themselves. Unfortunately, many consumers have fallen victim to telephone scams. The agency recorded the sum of $55,826.95 in actual losses by people who fell victim to scammers in the state.
Scam victims are enjoined to report by calling 1 (844) TELL-DCA (835-5322), by filling the Scam Report Form on the SCDA website, or by Tweeting @SCDCA using the hashtag #TellDCA. The Department also has a publication - Ditch the Pitch, which gives a detailed guide on how South Carolinians can recognize and protect themselves against telephone scammers. Some of the common phone scams identified in the state are:
- SMiShing: Here, scammers try to "phish"/steal personal information from victims by sending fraudulent links through text messages.
- Tech Support Scam: Scammers swindle people off their money or personal information by pretending to help remove malware or virus from their systems.
- Lottery/Sweepstakes: Here, scammers convince victims to send money for the shipping cost of a prize they have won through a lottery from a foreign company.
- Fake Debt Collectors: Scammers defraud people by forcing them (with jail threats) to pay up debts they allegedly owe the government.
- Imposters: Scammers pretend to call from the bank or IRS to steal the receiver's credit/debit account details
- "Credit Alert" Phishing Scams: Scammers send mails (embedded with links) from seeming "credit bureaus" to steal/phish victim's personal information.
- Hotel Room Scam: Scam artists call newly lodged guests in a guise to "verify" their credit card information, thus gaining access to their funds.
- Fake Charities: Very common after the occurrence of a disaster. Scammers call to solicit funds for seemingly genuine charities. Before making a donation, request the caller to send information about the charity via email. Get the list of genuine and fake charities from the Secretary of State's Office or call (803) 734-1790.
- Sham Investments: Offer of investment opportunities with huge ROI and promises of "guaranteed profits.”
What are South Carolina SMiShing Scams?
SMiShing scams involve the use of text messages to steal or "phish" the receiver’s personal information. In this case, scammers may send a message requesting the receiver to verify or update their information by clicking on an embedded link. Usually, the link is a malware or virus that enables the scammer to "harvest" sensitive information from the receiver's device upon download.
To avoid being scammed, do not click on any links found in a text message or email that you cannot verify. Avoid replying to any message that requests personal or financial information. Block the number from which the text was sent. Install an anti-malware and firewall on all devices and update regularly.
What are South Carolina Tech Support Scams?
Here, scammers call and pretend to be computer techs from popular and reputable companies. Claiming to have detected malware or virus on the victim's computer, the caller requests remote access to the computer to remove the malware. Through this, they gain control of the system and steal personal and financial information on the system. Also, the unsuspecting victim is made to pay for the installation of software they do not need.
Residents are advised not to give control of their systems to any stranger claiming to be techy. To get tech support, contact a known company directly through the official contact channels. Do not rely on caller ID; it can be spoofed. Finally, report such calls to the SCDCA or the Federal Trade Commission. Victims may also call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC is the primary government agency that collects scam complaints.
What are South Carolina Lottery/Sweepstakes Scams?
SC lottery scam is initiated when scammers call to congratulate the receiver for winning a lottery from a popular company based in a foreign country. The receiver was allegedly entered into a drawing each time they shopped at the superstore in question. The catch in this case, however, is that to receive the gift, the winner is required to wire money to cover the shipping cost or handling charges. Beware, it is a scam. Legitimate businesses will never demand payment before releasing a prize.
The SCDCA warns consumers never to wire money to claim gifts because victims hardly ever get such money back. Always such crimes report the scam to the SCDCA on 800-922-1594. When contacted by a stranger in this way, always try to verify their identity by submitting their number to a reverse phone lookup search service.
What are South Carolina Imposter Scams?
Here, the common trend is for fraudsters to hide behind official names trusted by consumers to carry out their fraudulent acts. Usually, victims will get a call from their banks or a government agency (e.g., IRS), requesting their banking details or personal information to urgently verify the unsuspecting victim's credit or debit account. This, they usually explain, enables the bank to reactivate the account blocked due to suspected fraudulent charge or to reverse an error on the account.
Another dimension to the scam is when a person pretending to be a relative in distress calls or another person calls on their behalf to request an urgent financial bailout. The victim is often required to wire the money immediately due to the seriousness of the case.
The SCDCA warns consumers never to give information about credit/debit cards over the phone. Financial institutions will not request such information via phone call. Immediately end such calls and contact the company directly via their trusted contact. In addition, report the scam to SCDCA’s ID Theft Unit by calling toll free at 800-922-1594, and the IRS at 1-800-829-3676. Or file a report by completing Form 3949-A. Residents are further enjoined to contact loved ones directly to verify such calls before sending money.
How Do I Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Phone Scam?
- Do not trust your caller ID; it can be spoofed.
- Take steps to block unwanted calls, including robocalls, and filter unwanted text messages.
- Do not click any link from an unsolicited email or text message received from a company you do business with, even when it appears real. Instead, use a known and trusted website to contact the organization. Alternatively, look up the contact phone number and call. Avoid calling any number given by the caller or the number from your caller ID.
- Do not give personal or financial information in response to an unexpected request. Legitimate organizations do not call, email or text to ask for personal information such as Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers.
- Register your phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry. The registry restricts telemarketers and illegitimate organizations from calling the registered numbers.
- The IRS will always contact clients by mail before calling about unpaid taxes. Ask the caller to provide their name, badge number, and callback number. Call TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484 to confirm if the caller is an IRS employee with a legitimate reason to contact you. If not, report the scam call to TIGTA.
- Resist the pressure to act immediately on a request or offer.
- Do not say anything if a caller begins the call by asking, “Can you hear me?” This is a common tactic used by scammers to record people’s saying “yes.” Scammers record the receiver's “yes” response to use as proof that he/she agreed to a purchase or credit card charge.
- Never wire money to, or pay someone who insists on payment with a gift card or through a money transfer service. Also, never deposit a check and send money back to someone.
- Report telephone scams online to the Federal Trade Commission or call 1-877-382-4357. The FTC is the primary government agency that collects scam complaints.
- Report all robocalls and unwanted telemarketing calls to the Do Not Call Registry.
- Report caller ID spoofing to the Federal Communications Commission. Reports can be made online or by phone at 1-888-225-5322.
- Regularly update your knowledge on scam and fraud trends. Subscribe to organizations such as the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).
If you have mistakenly shared sensitive information with a scammer, you may place a Fraud Alert and a Security freeze. With these in place, scammers cannot open accounts in your name.To do this, call each of the credit bureaus - Equifax: (800) 685-1111, TransUnion: (800) 680-7289, Experian: (888) 397-3742.